Often many hesitations in organizations going paperless is getting rid of or converting records that have hand-written signatures. This issue is related to two legal issues 1) the legal standing of hand-signed records that are in electronic format and 2) if e-signatures are legally defensible
E-signatures have been upheld in numerous court cases and, considered legal defensible documentation according to the U.S. Supreme Court. Based on the Rules on Electronic Evidence from the Supreme Court essentially electronically signed or scanned in hand-signed documents are:
functional equivalent of paper-based documents and admissible in court as evidence
admissible in evidence if it complies with the rules on admissibility
regarded as the equivalent of an original document (if it is in PDF format)
as authentic either digitally or hand signed by the person
There is also the E-SIGN Act, passed by Congress in June, 2000, which is federal law ensuring the legality of documents executed with e-signatures in the United States. The E-SIGN Act states that contracts with electronic signatures may not be denied legal effect or ruled unenforceable because they were created digitally.
With most organizations the decision on using e-signatures or keeping hand-written signed documents lies with legal counsel. It is important to get their approval on e-signatures and scanned copies before destroying original documents and records.
When restructuring the shared drive network, it is likely that there will be a considerable number of historical documents that need to be kept and archived. Often, records that are considered permanent, such as financial and personnel records, must be retained by the organization. Other records, such as strategy and business plans, provide history and background to an organization.
Historical data can be identified with the following criteria:
The data does not need to be accessed again and are solely being retained for historical and archival purposes;
The data are closed, completed, and finished, such as with projects and initiatives that do not have to be accessible;
The data relates to old businesses, sold assets, and dissolved entities or departments that do not need to be accessible but may be required for historical purposes; and/ or
Former employee work files (not their personnel file) that have been reviewed do not have to be accessible any longer but are still important to keep if future access is needed.
Be cautious moving historical data onto external hard drives. Although external hard drives are plug and play devices, once data is moved to an external hard drive it becomes forgotten and less accessible to staff. The following are ways to manage historical files on a Shared Drive network. These options should be discussed with IT and management before implementing an option.
Integrate into the file structure: Within the file structure, data can be organized chronologically to archive historical data, as shown in the screenshot below.
Create a “historical” file folder: A folder labeled Historical or Archive can be created in the first line of file folders. Within this folder a mirror image of the first line of folders (i.e., divisions of an organization) can be made. When documents become outdated for each division, they can be moved into the same topical folder in the historical folder. Or sub-files can be designed by year. As files and documents become outdated they can be moved into the appropriate historical year folder.
Archive them on a separate drive: Another option to manage historical data is to create a separate drive allocated on the server solely for archived and historical information. The structure can be designed in one of the options recommended above. Keeping the archived data on the server enables the data to be accessible quickly. It also will update files and documents automatically as software and operating systems are upgraded. Another option is to store historical and archive data on an external hard drive.
Document or content management systems (DMS) are separate cloud-based systems that specifically manage electronic data and records. DMS systems are not only for large companies. Even in smaller offices, DMS systems can effectively help organizations file, store, search and collaborate on documents that need modification and/ or tracking. Although organizing the shared drive with an electronic file hierarchy structure and establishing clear guidelines is valuable, it does require more work to manage and maintain versus having data stored in a document/ content management system.
DMS systems have more robust functions of input, storage, search, and access of data than the mere file management tools that come on computers such as Windows Explorer. DMS systems allow users to find data not only through a file hierarchy structure. These systems have additional information related to a document such as keywords, categorization, and indexing, all of which make searching and finding data much easier. It also compresses data so that it has the ability to store significant numbers of documents in a smaller amount of space, increasing server efficiency. DMS systems also have auto-archive and auto-delete functions that make adhering to record retention and compliance guidelines instantaneous.
A common file repository in a document/content management system is an opportunity to create a consistent records management system that will provide the following benefits;
Create ease and simplicity for users to have one centralized system to manage official records and documents.
Improve accessibility permissions and ease of filing electronic documents and records through one centralized system that is cloud-based and accessible via mobile devices.
Documents and records are automatically indexed and increased searching functionality will be available.
Easier access to shared information and documents within the entire organization.
Easier management of records retention through increased system functionality and centralized data location to manage data.
Easier access to collaborate on documents, manage version control and access important information quickly through one centralized access point.
Lays the foundation for a paperless office by reducing official paper files and increase reliance and trust on one centralized electronic system.